'Conversations’ on Houston Pan African religious traditions coming
Participants at the 2011 Sankofa Caravan to the Ancesors sponsored by the National Black United Front. YouTube Image.

Though Texas Southern University will play host to a conversation with original Black Panther Party member John Bunchy Crear on the topic “Religion in Houston’s Pan-African Community (March 30, 5:30pm, Public Affairs Bldg.), the event is actually being brought to Houston residents via Princeton University.

Well, kind of.

Local activist and founder of the Freedmen’s Town Farmers Market, Sade Perkins, and Rev. Dr. Colin Bossen, senior minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church, were recently named Princeton University Crossroads Fellows, a distinction that means they receive funding from the Ivy League school via a $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support a project that researches how Black religious leaders and communities responded to COVID-19, climate and environmental crises or to struggles for racial justice.

Perkins’ and Bossen’s focus: religion and politics in Black Houston; more specifically, in progressive Black Houston.

Sade Perkins

“People like a Bunchy (John) Crear, an original Black Panther, Baba Ifalade (Shango priest), Deloyd Parker (SHAPE), Deric Muhammad (Smart’n Up Black Male Summit), Gladys House (Freedmen’s Town) and others will be talking about the intersections of Black religion and Black politics as they relate to and evolve each other,” said Perkins.

However, Perkins is just as excited about an additional aspect of these conversations: compiling and recording interviewees’ stories and oral histories.

“Our elders are getting older, and then COVID added another layer on top of everything that’s hit our community. I know several people who we’ve lost in the past year or two, and it’s just been kind of crazy. So, I want to try to preserve those histories for future generations.”

As Perkins alluded, the March 30 “Conversation” with Crear, will not be a stand-alone event. Rather, it is the first in a series of conversations Perkins will facilitate. Bossen, who received a Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard and was a fellow at Rice University before becoming First Unitarian’s senior minister, is more focused on the compilation of findings these conversations will reveal, and sharing them with peer Crossroads Fellows next spring.

Rev. Colin Bossen

“The Pan African community in Houston’s Third and Fourth Wards is really unique in some really interesting ways in terms of the way it’s in conversations with communities in the Caribbean and Africa and the presence of lots of spiritual and religious traditions deeply embedded in those communities,” said Bossen.

“If you read a book on Black religion in the U.S., often you’re going to mostly get Christianity, Baptists, AME. You might get some stuff about the Nation of Islam, but you’re not going to get the sort of rich diversity of African spiritual practices, things like Yoruba, that are part of the lived religious practice in Third Ward. I think sharing that story and that kind of information with a larger audience beyond Houston has a real possibility of helping people think differently about Black religion and politics in the U.S.”

For more information about the March 30 event, visit www.firstuu.org.